A few months before the release of Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott's latest entry into the long-running sci-fi franchise), comes Life: another creepy space-set horror thriller in which a group of astronauts are forced to face a thoroughly unpleasant monster.

While some reviews for this movie might not go much further than mentioning how derivative it is since it is essentially a mix of Alien, The Thing and Gravity, one could argue that what it lacks in originality it makes up for in sheer terror and, in fact, surpasses some of the aforementioned films in some ways. Life may seem like a B-movie but it is so well made that dismissing it as just that would be unfair. The way in which the inside of the space station is shot really makes you buy the setting with its zero gravity and tight compartments as we follow the crew members floating through the station convincingly, something that Gravity didn't quite capture. The reasonable running time actually means the tension is heightened as there isn't a second to rest once the central threat is loose. Life also doesn't sugar-coat anything and you can expect some frankly brutal deaths throughout.

Then there's the alien (aka Calvin): a cross between an octopus, a butterfly and a creepy-crawly, this isn't exactly the design you'd expect and yet it's far scarier than Ridley Scott's space creature. Its small size makes Calvin even more dangerous since it could literally be on you and you wouldn't know it, its texture and movements are genuinely repulsive plus the fact it's basically indestructible and can breathe in space is an added layer of fear the doomed crew has to face. Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and the rest of the cast do a good job giving believably low-key, emotional performances. This is a relentless, nail-biting, often gross sci-fi horror film the likes of which we rarely see get made successfully these days and it's a refreshingly effective and unpredictable take on a familiar template.

Don't be discouraged by Life's unapologetically Alien-like plot: this is a good old fashioned horror film guaranteed to make your skin crawl thanks to an off-putting alien, a claustrophobic atmosphere and just the right amount of gore. If Alien: Covenant is half as spooky as this movie, I'll be happy.

Life is good.


Curiouser and curiouser...



Directed by Joel Coen and released back in 1991, Barton Fink is a dark comedy about a playwright who gets the opportunity to write a wrestling picture for a big Hollywood studio but quickly experiences writer's block.

This is perhaps one of the Coen Brothers' least well-known yet best movies. It failed at the box-office upon its release but sweeping the Cannes Film Festival, earning a few Oscar nominations and being a critical hit more than made up for that. The film follows Barton Fink (John Turturro), a passionate playwright who wants to create important work for the "common man", as he travels to Los Angeles to write a wrestling film for a Hollywood producer. He soon experiences writer's block in his dingy hotel room and befriends his neighbour Charlie (John Goodman) before slowly but surely spiralling down into confusion and despair. Part-Hollywood satire, part-surreal thriller, Barton Fink is a strange little movie that explores various big themes without actually exploring them, instead leaving everything open to interpretation and teasing the viewer from start to finish.

This is the Coen Brothers are their most meticulous with every detail, whether it's the peeling wallpapers in the hotel, a mosquito or a picture of a woman sitting on a beach, being very significant. The cinematography and art direction throughout are subtly brilliant and everything else, from the score to the writing and direction, is basically flawless. Both John Turturro and John Goodman give some of their best performances and the excellent supporting cast includes Judy Davis, John Mahoney, Tony Shalhoub and Steve Buscemi. Barton Fink moves at a slow and steady pace, leading you deeper and deeper into the cruel, lonely world of screenwriting so when it delivers some unexpected twists, including the surprisingly epic ending, you're never quite ready for it. This is a much less flashy and over-the-top film than some of the Coens' other works (it's actually closer to something like A Serious Man) but it's every bit as good as their best.

Recommending a Coen Brothers film at this point is redundant: ultimately, you should really check out every single one of them if you're a fan of cinema as an artform. Barton Fink is one of their smaller yet most effective and surprising films so it's definitely worth a watch, and a re-watch.


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